On his fifth recording as leader, pianist / composer Falkner Evans has expanded his group size from trio (the first three) and quintet (the fourth) to sextet with vibraphonist Steve Nelson added on three of the album's ten numbers, the first nine of which were written by Evans. Even though this was a one-off, Evans' teammates are skillful enough to make it sound like a working ensemble. One reason for this is that the rhythm section (bassist Belden Bullock, drummer Matt Wilson) have been at Evans' side for more than a decade. Another is that Nelson, trumpeter Ron Horton and saxophonist Ted Nash have brightened the New York City jazz scene for many years and can settle comfortably into any neighborhood.
That environment, as crafted by Evans, embraces a range of moods and tempos without departing from the core values of melody, rhythm, harmony and group dynamics that have enlivened small-group jazz from its inception. Even though one would be hard-pressed to pick Evans out of a lineup, he is an accomplished pianist who plays all the right notes and phrases and weaves them into a rich and colorful tapestry. His writing is much the same: straightforward and unassuming, resting firmly on the guidelines established by his elders. Within that framework, Evans and his partners are able to craft a series of bright and engaging tunes that may be less than daring but are altogether agreeable.
The same holds true for solos: graceful and emphatic in the best jazz tradition with incisive statements along the way by Horton, Nash, Blake, Bullock and the leader, not to mention Nelson who is heard to good advantage on the easygoing "Hidden Gem." Evans favors brisk tempos, which is good, as the ensemble is at its loose and swinging best on "Global News," "This for That," "Marbles" and "Dear West Village"which is not to say that Evans' other tunes are less than pleasing. After sweeping through nine of them, the group has some fun on the finale, an abbreviated version of Duke Ellington's "Things Ain't What They Used to Be."
While there's not much that is beyond ordinary on Marbles, neither is there much to disparage. It's simply sharp, plain-spoken jazz, ably performed by craftsmen who know best how to make it charming and pleasurable.
Pina; Civilization; Sing Alone; Global News; Hidden Gem; This From That; Mbegu; Marbles; Dear West Village;
Things Ain't What They Used To Be.